Poll: Persistent Economic Discontent Casts Continuing Political Pall

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And Obama's gone from a 35-point advantage over the Republicans in trust to handle the economy when he took office, to +11 points last spring, to -1 now, its first foray into negatives. The GOP also runs essentially evenly with the president in trust to handle the issues of taxes and terrorism, and leads, by the widest margin of his presidency, in trust to handle the deficit.

BUT STILL -- The president has pushback. He slightly leads the Republicans in Congress, by 5 points, in trust to handle the "main problems the nation faces." That's a switch from past turnovers: George W. Bush trailed the Democrats by 26 points on this measure after they took the House in 2006, and Bill Clinton trailed the Republicans by 15 points in trust to handle the country's main problems after the GOP won the House in 1994.

The result this time may reflect a sense that the economy, the main problem for so many, seems intractably bad no matter who's handling it.

Similarly, Obama and the Republicans run evenly in perceptions of who's taking the stronger leadership role in Washington. Again, by contrast, the Democrats led Bush by 20 points in this measure after the 2006 election, and the Republicans led Clinton by a vast 34 points in late 1994.

Obama's also more apt to be seen as willing to compromise -- while 40 percent say he's doing too little to work with the Republicans, more, 54 percent, say the Republicans are doing too little to compromise with Obama. And despite complaints among some liberal leaders, few, 11 percent, say Obama's doing "too much" to compromise. (Seventy-five percent of liberals approve of Obama's job performance overall, among his best support groups.)

On specific issues, Obama leads the Republicans, by a robust 15 points, in trust to handle "helping the middle class"; and by 13 points, 51-38 percent, in trust to handle health care reform. That's even though, as we reported yesterday, a new low, 43 percent, support the new health care law. The result may reflect the lack of consensus among critics of the law on what to do about it.

Obama also might find comfort in the fact that his approval rating continues closely to resemble that of Ronald Reagan, the last president to take office in the teeth of a recession. Reagan went from 68 percent approval at the start of his first term to 45 percent at the end of his second year; Obama's gone from 68 to 49 percent in the same period. Their ratings over their first two years in office correlate at a remarkable .9.

DEFICIT -- Then there's the deficit, a gnarly problem that seems to offer little hope of political goodwill. On one hand, 56 percent of Americans say efforts to reduce the deficit should start now, without waiting for the economy to improve; and six in 10 see a combination of spending cuts and tax increases as the best way to proceed.

But what cuts and which taxes? Of nine individual items that have been proposed by the president's debt-reduction commission, not one receives majority support in this survey, and all but one engender clearly stronger opposition than strong support.

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